Heavy Fire Destroys Manhattan Synagogue on Lower East Side

Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagadol has occupied the building since 1885

What to Know

  • The fire at Beth Hamedrash Hagadol on the Lower East Side of Manhattan broke out Sunday evening
  • The congregation has occupied the 1850s-era building since 1885
  • At one time the building housed the oldest congregation of orthodox Russian Jews in the United States

A three-alarm fire erupted at a 19th Century synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan Sunday night, sending thick black smoke billowing over the city and choking the nighttime sky.

The fire broke out around 7 p.m. at the historic Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagadol at 60 Norfolk St. and prompted the city to issue an emergency alert warning neighbors to close their windows and stay indoors if possible. 

Social media videos showed heavy flame raging from the top of the building, which appeared to be severely damaged.

Firefighters were forced to battle the fire from the outside because of the intensity of the flames. The roof of the synagogue collapsed and the building was gutted.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the blaze, however, the investigation will be led by the fire marshal. The fire chief said the fire originated from inside. 

A search of the grounds around the synagogue will be done Monday. 

Firefighters will stay at the scene through the night to keep an eye out and extinguish any pockets of fire. 

According to the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, the congregation is the oldest for orthodox Russian Jews in the United States, and occupied the 1850s-era building since 1885. The synagogue was closed in 2007. 

As recently as 2013, the congregation had considered demolishing the building altogether, before a change of heart kept it open, according to The Forward. 

Meanwhile, residents are shocked and heartbroken that a fixture in the neighborhood that dates back to the 1800s is now gone. 

"I don't know what the people in charge of it planned to do with it," Stuart Goldstein, of the Lower East Side, said."It’s a pity that something with that much history is now no longer functioning."

Nobody was injured, officials said. 

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